“Comment is free, but facts are sacred,”
said the revered editor of the Guardian in 1921 – the source of its blog’s
name. This should be the case, too, with the sex abuse scandal. One of two
major reports on abuse in Ireland was issued last year, the Report by Commission of
Investigation into Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin
. But I wonder how many
people outside of , or even in, Ireland have read it before making up their own
facts. To be fair, I suppose that the depravities chronicled therein are enough
to overwhelm anyone’s critical balance. However, David Manly,
of Family & Life, did swim
through the cesspit  and came up with
some very interesting observations.His comments on Catholic canon law offer
little cheer about the past, but a glimmer of light along the road ahead:

of the most shocking findings of the Commission is the extent to which the
Church authorities neglected to apply the measures provided for by the Church’s
own laws, the Code of Canon Law. The Report notes that “canon law appears to
have fallen into disuse and disrespect during the mid 20th century.”  It
is clear that some of those entrusted with applying Canon Law were not even
aware of the options available to them. If this was the case in the country’s
largest diocese, it seems likely that in many other dioceses this ignorance and
neglect of the Canon Law will have been at least as bad.

law provides the Church authorities with a means not only of dealing with
offending clergy, but also with a means of doing justice to victims, including
paying compensation to them. In practice, it appears to the Commission that,
for a significant part of the period covered by the Commission, canon law was
used selectively when dealing with offending clergy, to the benefit of the
cleric and the consequent disadvantage of his victims. The Commission has not
encountered a case where canon law was invoked as a means of doing justice to
victims” (Vol. 1, § 4.3). Had the requirements of Canon Law been followed, most
of the concerns raised in relation to the Archdiocese’s handling of these cases
would have been addressed, and abusers would not have been free to go on to prey
on other victims.

1389 provides for a penalty, including deprivation of office, for an official
who abuses ecclesiastical power or who omits through ‘culpable negligence’ to
perform an act of ecclesiastical governance. A bishop who fails to impose the
provisions available to him in canon law in a case of sexual abuse of a child
is liable to penal sanctions imposed by Rome” (Vol. 1, § 4.81).

penal process of canon law was for a period of years set aside in favour of a
purely ‘pastoral’ approach which was, in the Commission’s view, wholly
ineffective as a means of controlling clerical child sexual abuse. The abuse of
children in Dublin was a scandal. The failure of the Archdiocesan authorities
to penalise the perpetrators is also a scandal” (Vol. 1, § 4.90).


Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet. He lives in Sydney, Australia.